Augusta Stallions owner Frank Lawrence said Monday he will suspend operations of the team unless the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center coliseum authority can make some financial concessions and improve service at the arena.
The Stallions recently completed the final year of a three-year lease. Lawrence said the Stallions would not close down and will continue to be a member of the arenafootball2 league with the possibility of returning. However, he said the team will not play again until conditions improve or a new arena is built.
"Unless we get changes that fundamentally improve the service, we have to look at going dormant in this community until those conditions improve," said Lawrence, who has territorial rights to any Arena Football League or af2 franchise in Augusta. "We would not play in 2003 unless those conditions were dramatically changed."
Bill Maddox, former coliseum authority chairman who still serves on the board, doesn't believe the Stallions will be back next year. However, he said he would negotiate with Lawrence.
"I would be surprised if they came back," Maddox said. "I'm willing to sit down and work out something with the football team. But I just have an idea that ... we'd be surprised that we'd keep 'em."
The Stallions must renegotiate a new lease by Sept. 1 to participate in the league next season.
"Even though there may not be play for another six months or so, we still have to put out a schedule," said Alison Wagner, af2 director of league development. "If we find out in January after a schedule is out that somebody couldn't reach a lease negotiation, then all of our schedule is shot. ... That's why we do need everybody to have their ducks in a row by a certain date."
Before Lawrence signs another lease, though, he wants the civic center to rectify some of the problems he said the team had this season, including:
"We have had some issues with the arena for quite some time," Lawrence said. "It is very similar to the Methodists. Many of the concessions and areas were not well-manned."
The North Georgia Annual Conference of United Methodists said the civic center was dirty and its catering was understaffed for its event in mid-June. General manager Reggie Williams was fired over the incident two weeks later.
"We can attribute it all back to the management," coliseum authority member Fred Reed said. "I understand. That's why we're (the coliseum authority) in the position we're in. ... I believe it's nothing more than a management problem and I hate to see the Stallions stuck in the middle."
With the firing of Williams, Maddox's resignation as chairman of the coliseum authority in June and the departure of Philadelphia-based SMG (the arena's management company) in May, Lawrence said he doesn't know who to complain to.
Or negotiate a contract with.
"We've got some issues to deal with and I don't know who to talk to," Lawrence said. "I don't even know who's in charge down there."
Lawrence signed the original lease in March 2000. The Stallions were to receive 100 percent of the revenue from advertisements on the turf, dashboards and pads, 100 percent of merchandise sales, and a portion of the beer, wine and alcohol revenues.
Since then, the advertising rights have been a sticking point - Stallions officials claim the Augusta Lynx have received preferential treatment and advertising space.
"I like the Augusta Lynx. I think they're good for the city just like the Augusta Stallions are," Lawrence said. "I just don't particularly like the way that they allocate certain revenue streams at the coliseum. ... I'm not mad at the Lynx, for God sakes."
Lawrence also said staffing problems and facility upkeep issues led to reductions in concession and alcohol sales.
"I don't want to beat up on those people, but the arena has a lot of problems," he said.
The coliseum authority meets the last Thursday of every month with its next meeting on Aug. 29. However, Reed said the coliseum authority could call a special meeting to negotiate a lease.
"I'd be willing to make some concessions myself as a voting member to keep them there," Reed said. "The first two years they were struggling as an organization. This year, they really turned it around."
The Stallions have been one of the most successful franchises in the three-year-old af2 league. In three seasons, Augusta has a combined 35-13 record with two playoff appearances.
The team averaged 5,232 fans a game in 2000, but saw a 26 percent drop in attendance the next season (3,851). As the Stallions won their first seven games this season en route to a 13-4 record, the team averaged a crowd of 4,327 a game this season to rank 23rd in attendance in the 34-team league this season.
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 868-1222 ext. 114